One of the early information systems pioneers known for her communication skills, style, and abiding Catholic faith.
Corallie Flora Eagle who died on April 10, was at the vanguard of information technology, systems integration, and communications business in New Zealand. She was fashionably ahead of the dotcom wave before it was a late-90s buzzword, and the Internet was nascent.
It was Corallie, as a mother of six at-the-time with a newborn, who backed her husband to establish their technology company after leaving IBM as its top salesman in the mainframe, or giant computer, space.
The dynamic duo set up what was to become Eagle Technology 50 plus years ago. It was one of the country's first companies to market and sell a range of computer systems, services and software that spanned from mini-computers and high-end workstations to geographic information systems, uninterrupted power supply boxes and early versions of hole-in-the-wall banking machines.
Their vision, partnership and passion saw the development of a business offering excellent products and services to New Zealand and overseas businesses.
Among its first customers were Databank, the Australian Defence Force, banks, city and regional councils, engineering companies and health organisations.
While always an equal partner in the business, Corallie was the driving and supportive, sometimes cautionary force in the background.
No decision was made at Eagle Technology without her oversight.
While her late husband was out-in-front as the convivial entrepreneur she was plugged in to every, absolutely every aspect of the operation from technology and product lines to customer care, HR and what some saw as her extraordinary talent, communication, and customer relations.
Corallie's influence, aside from the decision-making, was about how staff needed to behave. She set a high bar for herself and expected the same of the 120-strong team. There was an Eagle way of doing business.
To watch her in operation at an Eagle Technology event, whether training for technical types or customers from the small to the big, was a lesson in sophisticated understated communication. Corallie was a social choreographer par excellence.
She was acutely involved at the many events the company sponsored, from swimming and multi-sport events to racing and conservation. At a WWF fundraiser she sat next to the late Duke of Edinburgh and was a delightful mix of entrancing and up-front. Coralie was always direct.
One such place where her skills surfaced was in the beautifully furnished Eagle Technology box with its elegant (and pragmatic) marble floor at Eden Park. Tickets were coveted no matter the match because the guest list was always a carefully curated mix of the good and the great, politicians and businesspeople in a rumba of conversation, bonhomie and excellent food and wine.
Here Corallie was like a chess grandmaster, artfully ensuring no one was left out of a conversation, steering people from group to group as a hostess with the mostest, impeccably dressed and coiffed.
She was also not afraid to speak out and manage a situation. At a dinner for Jack Dangermond, the charismatic and slightly eccentric billionaire founder of geographic information system company ESRI , Corallie went into what could be described as table damage control.
Jack, who happened to have superglue in his wallet, (go figure) glued a wine glass to the table at The Latin, a Mission Bay restaurant of note at the time. He thought this a great joke but Corallie disagreed and told him off, as if a mother with a recalcitrant child. "I am paying the bills and we don't do this in a restaurant." His good-natured reply, "I'm sorry Mrs Eagle." That was her utter understanding and use of soft and immediate power. That incident was recounted at a dinner in the United States two years ago.
Her love of fashion was legendary and began at an early age. At 15 Corallie was photographed at the Ellerslie races by the New Zealand Herald as the best-dressed and most fashionable. Like many of her garments in those early days, she would make not only dresses, but gowns embellished with crystals and hand-made flowers.
She also worked with Auckland studio photographer Brian Henry, creating floral frames and using mirrors for female portraits.
Later as Eagle Technology became more successful, she became an avid supporter of local and international fashion designers, and leaves behind a wardrobe of colour-coded garments – pink, white, yellow, and more. And shoes, she loved shoes.
Her love of fashion, design and style in no way diminishes her strong character and fearless approach to living through some of the toughest challenges a mother, wife, and woman could face.
With her abiding Catholic faith as her backbone, she maintained a sense of equilibrium with dignity when faced with the death of two sons and her beloved husband.
The Monday after her husband died her sense of duty to staff and customers was outwardly more important than her deep personal grief. She was at the office, immaculately dressed, ready for business as the company's new chairman, a position she held until her death. She loved her relation, Mother Mary MacKillop, Australia's first and only saint, whose photograph was placed in her coffin.
Many people from all her strands of life filled St Patrick's cathedral to overflowing for her solemn requiem, held on an Auckland afternoon where the sky was the colour of zinc, a counterpoint to her perfectly oversized casket spray of pink roses.
She is survived by her five remaining children, sister Flora McGuire, and seven grandchildren.
- Former NZ Infotech Auckland bureau chief Richard Pamatatau teaches journalism at AUT University and is pursuing a PhD in Poetry at Massey University.